Festivalgoers enjoy a blues show under the hot sun on Aug. 18, 2019 at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival. (File photo)

Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival ponders multi-venue format with streaming in 2021

Festival request four-year grant, format decisions depend on funding, health restrictions

Based on the success of the online 28th Annual Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival, plans for the 2021 festival are moving ahead.

David Gonella, executive director of the Salmon Arm Folk Music Society that runs the event, told city council Jan. 11 that unlike many other festivals across Canada, the Salmon Arm festival chose not to cancel. Instead, it reached more than 20,000 viewers online.

He said the biggest goal of the year was convincing the board that going to an online project was a smart idea; that it was important to retain patrons and stay relevant to them.

The online festival was done by repurposing footage captured on the main stage since 2007. Jumbotrons brought in to combat the problem of dancers in front of the stage made it possible. He noted that not every performer wanted to have that footage used again publicly, so it wasn’t easy.

The festival’s online success has given it authority on the online programming side, Gonella said, with organizers still being contacted about how to guide other events.

The other change was a shift to the idea that it was more than just the festival, it was about tourism for Salmon Arm and the Shuswap.

Gonella said the festival has been working with the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society, Shuswap Tourism and Community Futures Shuswap. He spoke highly about a ‘Salmon Arm is open’ video from economic development that the festival will be able to repurpose.

Gonella said about $1 million in potential income was lost by not having a live festival. While the 2020 online festival was free, he said organizers think it can pursue a streaming fee service and charge a fee for the online presentation in 2021.

“We wanted to make sure we could do it with a level of professionalism that would warrant asking for money.”

He asked council for a four-year funding commitment, starting with $50,000 in 2021 and going up to $53,000 by 2024.

The society returned its 2020 grant to the city when the in-person festival was cancelled.

The usual post-festival survey, although reaching a sample of only 395 participants, showed 72 per cent would attend another online program. Online comments were positive.

He sees advantages to online viewing include being able to reach a larger audience of people, including people with limited mobility.

While it’s not known what health protocols 2021 will bring, Gonella speculated that a 50-person limit on a live show might be what’s allowed. He said he’s been looking at the multi-venue format, using up to 15 venues in town, each streamed with certain performers on certain days with a certain crew, to restrict cross-contamination.

However, what’s done will also depend on funds. He said decisions will have to be made in early March, because performers need to set their schedules.

Mayor and council thanked Gonella for the presentation and for the work that was put in to the 2020 festival. The financial request will be considered during council’s budget deliberations on Jan. 18.

“Congratulations to you and Peter (North) and the board, because I think you pulled it off with flying colours,” said Mayor Alan Harrison. “I know we watched it at home, and looking at over 20,000 people who took that in. I think it was really important to have a presence. And as you have referred to…, it really was not just a presence of Roots and Blues, but a presence of Salmon Arm and the Shuswap.”

Read more: Salmon Arm Roots & Blues cancels 2020 festival, pursuing alternatives

Read more: Roots and Blues Festival to kick off virtually on Friday


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